There’s been so little noise coming from the front offices of the Royals that I thought we dodged a bullet. Normally, it’s around this time where the brain trust finds some scrap-heap starter (Brett Tomko, Sidney Ponson and my personal favorite Joe Mays) and slots them in the back of the rotation.
Yeah, it’s the number five starter on a last place team, so it’s not like it s a huge deal. Although I suppose it’s just kind of soul crushing when you split your season tickets and get a handful of Ponson starts while you are shut out on Greinke.
Anyway, I just figured the Royals would stick with their less than fab five (Greinke, Meche, Bannister, Davies and Hochevar) and that would be that. Kind of boring, but it’s probably the best we can do.
But wait - It looks like the Royals have a sense of humor.
Start Him Up: Farnsworth To Get A Shot is the headline of the article on Royals.com that gently breaks the news: Kyle Farnsworth will go to spring training with the opportunity to open the season in the rotation.
Seriously, was the Denkinger call so horrible that we re still paying the baseball gods over 25 years later?
It’s spring training, so it’s still a little early to get bent about this. I’d give it a 45% chance of Farnsworth actually starting. It s that high only because this is the Royals we’re talking about. Farnsworth will go to Surprise needing to get work to get prepared for the upcoming season. It doesn’t matter if that work comes in the first inning or the ninth inning while the club is in Arizona. Innings are irrelevant in the spring. (Early, at least. It’s probably a good idea to play the final week of the Cactus schedule with some kind of regular season plan in mind.)
But hang on to your hat. While I don’t like the idea of moving Farnsworth to the rotation, it’s an interesting move to ponder.
The reasoning behind the push to the rotation has to do with Farnsworth’s development of a third pitch – a two seam fastball that works as a cut fastball. It’s a pitch he began playing with early in 2008 when he was with the Yankees. He didn’t follow up with it at the time for whatever reason, but brought it out of mothballs in the middle of last season.
The cutter is basically a hybrid of his fastball and his slider. It’s lateral movement is about half that of his slider, and it of course features a downward tilt. His average cutter last summer was clocked at 89.5 mph which is right between his fastball (96 mph) and his slider (85 mph).
The result of his new pitch was a ground ball to fly ball ratio that trended to the ground ball side for the first time since 2005. For his career, his GB/FB ratio is 0.94. Last year, it was 1.36. And his air out to ground out ratio was 0.84. Again, that was the closest to even as he s been since 05. It s still off from the major league average of 1.04 AO/GO, but it’s a start.
The extra ground balls were nice, but he was still giving up line drives at a high 20% rate and his batting average on balls in play was a lofty .374. The benefit of the cutter for Farnsworth was it actually helped limit the damage he could have caused by keeping the ball in the park. Am I crazy saying this? I don’t think so. In his previous two seasons before coming to KC, Farnsworth allowed a total of 24 home runs in 120 innings, a home run rate of 1.8 HR/9. Last year, he allowed a total of three home runs in 37 innings for a home run rate of 0.7 HR/9. That s pretty huge.
(Time for a break. Of course two of his three home runs – the three run shot to Thome in the opener and the moon shot to Young in Texas that same month – were absolute gut punches. My theory is that Farnsworth can’t handle the pressure of the late inning situation with the game on the line. The fastball tends to get a little more straight as it were. And elevated. A lot. More on pressure in a few paragraphs.)
Let s take a moment to check out his evolution over the last three years.
So it’s not altogether crazy that Farnsworth be looked at as a starter. He s developed a third pitch and began to accumulate more ground balls and kept the ball in the park which is a key component of avoiding the big inning.
Still, it’s a bad idea.
Farnsworth will be 34 next year and has spent the last 10 years of his career exclusively in the bullpen. Can you think of any other pitcher who has gone from bullpen to the rotation with a similar story? I can t. Usually, it’s a one way road in the other direction.
As such, the most innings he s thrown in a season since 2000 is 82. And that was back in 2001. In the last five years, he s averaged 58 innings per season. Of course, the Royals would make the effort to stretch him out, but we re talking about an arm that hasn t been stretched out for over a decade. You have to wonder if it has any elasticity left.
And finally, I have come to believe that Farnsworth can be an asset to this team. With the caveat if used properly. Given the fact that he folds like a card table under pressure, he belongs in the sixth and seventh inning. Maybe the eighth if the lead is large enough. Hell, I wouldn’t mind him in the ninth if you have a lead of six or more runs. I mocked his scoreless run in the middle of the season because it came exclusively in low leverage situations, but there is some value in keeping runners off the scoreboard no matter the situation. Farnsworth was quality for a stretch but then the Royals got carried away and inserted him in a couple of tight situations in the late innings and all hell broke loose.
His high leverage struggles as a reliever mean we have to ask how he would do as a starter when the pressure got cranked up a notch or two. With runners on first and third and one out in a tie game in the fourth inning still has less leverage than the same situation in the ninth. We have a pretty good idea what would happen in the ninth. We need to know what would happen in the fourth. That’s the important question.
I think he’d spit the bit no matter what. Farnsworth is best taken in low doses three outs at a time when the game isn’t on the line. Limit the damage he can do and he could still provide some of that value.
He belongs in the pen. After all these years, it’s his home. And he may still be of some value to the Royals as a reliever.